Photo credit  |  ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Space2Connect – using satellite data for climate action

BIOMASS, Climate services, COP26, Earth Blox, Events, Land, NCEO, Quosient Ltd  |  20 January, 2021  |  Reading time: 2 minutes

21 January 13:00–13:45  |  Online

Purpose of the session:

  • Provide overview of emerging drivers for space-enabled climate services
  • Showcase from mission to action examples of trusted climate data for climate action now and for innovative organisations wishing to be mission ready
  • Promote understanding of user requirements

Space to Connect is the free to attend annual Space Applications networking event hosted by the UK Space Agency – this year, it was held virtually with over 1,300 registered participants.  The networking event provides a chance to hear from and meet new companies, organisations and individuals who are innovating at the forefront of the Space Applications Sector. Space4Climate Chair Beth Greenaway hosted a thematic session on the use of satellite data for climate action.

The UK’s space sector is world leading in designing, delivering and exploiting high-quality climate observations from satellites. These observations offer evidence and assurance, for risk disclosure, monitoring climate change and taking climate action in the race to Net Zero. For space applications businesses seeking to exploit this data for mass market, policy and operational decision-making products, this session will provide a valuable insight into a variety of emerging user requirements, as well as examples of Earth observation based climate data products and services from climate risk disclosure for financial services and in-country action through to forthcoming advancements in global monitoring of terrestrial carbon stocks, fluxes and emissions.

The session showcased a variety of climate data providers and users interested in the use of Earth Observation (EO) data to strengthen and develop climate services for global to local climate action.

Session agenda and slides

  • Session introduction, Beth Greenaway, Head of Earth Observations and Climate, UK Space Agency
2021-01 Space2Connect BG slides


  • BIOMASS mission, Professor  Shaun Quegan NCEO – University of Sheffield


  • Climate informed risk mapping and action, Keith Jones, National Trust
2021 Space2Connect _NT ppt


  • Earth Blox – supporting code-free analytics, Prof Iain Woodhouse, University of Edinburgh and Earth Blox


  • Panel discussion

Panel discussion

Please note that these notes have been transcribed from an audio recording from the session which was patchy. There might be some inaccuracies.

  • With regards to Hazard Mapping, where are the largest data gaps that remote-sensing can fill in and contribute to?

KJ: At the moment when you are looking at the Committee on Climate Change’s  6 main impacts on the UK, I can see datasets for most of them, the future flood one is currently developing. The area I feel we are blind to is pest and disease a) what we’ve got and b) what it’s impact will be and climate enveloping what we’ve already got.  It is difficult to account for stuff in SE Asia that could come in on a pallet and go bonkers because all of a sudden its found its climate envelope. There is a knowledge gap there. We are not tracking that well and too dependent on the ground luck for finding it. The larger scale impacts such as Ash die-back  that we’ve seen over a very very large area, there is a role for remote sensing there because the impact is so widespread. We need to have a view of where it is now. Drought last year was a big multiplier of the Ash die-back. It would have been really good to have then monitored the impact of drought to see if it accelerated/pegged it back.  Personally from a National Trust perspective there is a knowledge gap on pest and diseases, not the modelling of the future but where we are starting from.

IW: In the context of STRATA, we are looking at climate and environmental risks, the focus is largely currently on low income countries where they don’t necessarily have access to widespread forms of data. STRATA’s first year for example will start in the Horn of Africa and spread across the Sahel because that is the area that both has major likely flash points but also because it lacks lots of data that Earth Observation can fill in terms of vegetation cover dynamics and soil moisture just to name a couple. BIOMASS will be very interesting as a contribution to there.

SQ: One of the big gaps at the moment is the ability to map vulnerability of forests, to see and measure degradation of forests. Over time turns a full forest into a non-forest or a forest that doesn’t support ecosystems and provide ecosystem services like it did previously. The BIOMASS mission will contribute to solving that gap.

  • What impact does COP26 offer your work?

KJ: Problems are always solved by communication.  We’ve set up a network in the UK for sharing between individuals [Fit for the Future] which is why I really like Space4Climate.  I just put in a question every 3 or 4 months and get one of the fullest answers I’ve ever had. It takes me a while to go through all the contacts in there. If we can do it globally we’d be a much stronger place.

IW: Making sure the stuff that is going to be of interest to school kids, for them to be able to see EO data and see forest is being replaced by palm oil. Any platform that allows people to see it for themselves, that they can look at the impacts of environment changing over time. The more we can do to open access and people’s ability to make those judgements themselves and not have to rely on second hand knowledge, the better.

SQ: COP26 already has a major impact before it happens. I’m a member of the National Centre for Earth Observation, it forces us to ask ourselves, what is the best way to combine our capability? It relates to what KJ said, it is all about communicating and helping each other, that is already happening and then it forces a second question, how would you combine the data to help people do what they want to do so people can exploit them to best effect? The fact that COP26 is happening is making us do that in the UK and it is a very good pressure, that we need on us.

  • For Keith Jones, what would be the ideal in terms of data on ash die-back?

KJ: By the time the tree is dead is it too late? It takes quite a few years to die. Indicators such as heather beetle infestation – we can get very large areas of heather diebacks, which we are seeing, although its endemic, we think its accelerating but I have no data to tell you if it is accelerating. When heather is in full bloom there’s a distinct differentiation between the stuff that is doing fine and the stuff that is dead or dying. On the ash one, is it canopy cover? Because if you have Phase 1 survey data and then can correlate with how the canopy is gone, is that a good enough indicator?

  • You speak about forests, however, also monitoring permafrost biomass using LIDAR etc?

SQ:  A very interesting question.  One possible capability with the BIOMASS mission at this very long wavelength is that it might be able to measure some of the properties of permafrost such as the depth of permafrost. This isn’t the same as permafrost carbon as we won’t be measuring carbon content.  However, the mission will provide information that might tell you about the dynamics of permafrost, and from that, that might give information of possible permafrost releases. It is one of the possible secondary objectives.  The mission itself does not have the ideal orbit for doing this but the wavelength is probably the right one, so i think there are considerable capabilities but you would need to relate them to the capability to model biomass and our knowledge of what drives permafrost depth.

  • What is the soonest we will see BIOMASS mission outputs? and as you say we are entering unprecedented times in terms of satellite imagery (especially SAR) being available for Biomass monitoring, but are there parallel efforts in terms of collecting accurate (standardised) ground biomass data ?

SQ: you can expect to see BIOMASS data at the end of 2023 if everything goes as planned and the support from the ground sector is fantastic, facilitated a lot by CEOS so we are in good shape.

Space2Connect details

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